Thursday, May 26, 2011
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin
At times, the persistent use of second person felt problematic, especially toward the end. Its use makes sense because of its inherent accusatory tone, and also because on the surface it avoids the “I” narrator, which could be perceived as a more egocentric presentation of character. But in most instances, second person here is easily interchanged with first person.
SPOILER ALERT: THIS PARAGRAPH ADDRESSES CONCERNS IN THE LAST TWO CHAPTERS. I appreciated finally giving Mom a voice at the end of this book, as she roams ghostlike to check in on her family members and the house she raised them in. It helped to draw a full circle of this family, and show the richness of her character, the honest selflessness and love she offered (suffered for) her children. I wish the book had ended there. The lengthy Epilogue is voiced again by the writer-daughter as she goes to Rome and, regarding Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” finds at last the spirit of her mother as she prays to the statue to “please look after Mom.” This section felt melodramatic to me in the way that much of Korean cinema and television can be over the top, bearing down on points already made, bleeding them for their last ounce of emotionalism in a much-beating-of-breath manner familiar to Korean drama. With its obvious Christian icons, it also felt somewhat pasted in, or too easy a resolution. Arguing that restraint expresses more than exposure, like modesty versus porn, I would have preferred no Epilogue.
But this family is richly characterized, its dynamic pace and its members unforgettable, the smallest details of their everyday lives mined to express the depth of the complexity, contradiction and mystery with which families evolve.